The Wall Street Journal: Judge backs Apple in locked-iPhone drug case

A federal magistrate judge in New York sided Monday with Apple Inc. AAPL, -0.23%   and against the Justice Department, in a legal fight over whether the company can be forced to help investigators extract data from a locked phone — a ruling that could affect a similar, much-watched case over a terrorist’s phone in California.

The ruling, which could shape the broader battle over privacy, security and technology now being waged between Washington and Silicon Valley, comes a day before the head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Apple’s top lawyer are due to testify before Congress.

Also read: Why Apple is right in its fight with the FBI

Magistrate Judge James Orenstein issued a 50-page order rejecting the Justice Department’s claims that the 18th century All Writs Act gives prosecutors the authority to compel Apple to help investigators bypass the passcode-protection system on an Apple iPhone seized in a drug investigation.

The decision could have a ripple effect in Congress and California, where a judge is weighing a similar request in a dispute over an iPhone used by a terrorist in the San Bernardino attack.

In Monday’s ruling, the judge determined that the government’s view of the 1789 All Writs Act is so far-reaching “as to cast doubt on [its] constitutionality if adopted.’’ He said the critical issues of 21st century privacy and technology should be decided by today’s lawmakers, not by re-interpreting an old law.

An expanded version of this report appears on WSJ.com.

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